MAVEN spacecraft is on its way to Mars

The MAVEN spacecraft is launched on Nov. 18, 2013 for a 10-month journey to Mars. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
The MAVEN spacecraft is launched on November 18, 2013 for a 10-month journey to Mars. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Only a couple of weeks after India launched its first-ever mission to Mars, NASA has also just sent another probe to the Red Planet. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) spacecraft was successfully launched yesterday, November 18th, at 1:28 pm EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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Searching for life in Europa’s ocean – with a tiny submarine

Artist's conception of DADU exploring ice-covered waters. Credit: Jonas Jonsson / Angstrom Space Technology Centre of Uppsala University
Artist’s conception of DADU exploring ice-covered waters.
Credit: Jonas Jonsson / Angstrom Space Technology Centre of Uppsala University

For decades, Jupiter’s moon Europa has been the focus of fascination and debate. Why? Because it has a global ocean – a deep, salty ocean similar to those on Earth, except that in Europa’s case it is always covered by a crust of ice. Speculation has grown that there could be life of some kind in that alien watery darkness, and now there is a new proposal for how to look for it – a tiny submarine!

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New evidence from Hubble Space Telescope for exoplanet that ‘shouldn’t be there’

Hubble image and illustration showing the gap in the planetary disk surrounding TW Hydrae. Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Debes (STScI), H. Jang-Condell (University of Wyoming), A. Weinberger (Carnegie Institution of Washington), A. Roberge (Goddard Space Flight Center), G. Schneider (University of Arizona/Steward Observatory), and A. Feild (STScI/AURA)
Hubble image and illustration showing the gap in the planetary disk surrounding TW Hydrae.
Click for larger version. Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Debes (STScI), H. Jang-Condell (University of Wyoming), A. Weinberger (Carnegie Institution of Washington), A. Roberge (Goddard Space Flight Center), G. Schneider (University of Arizona/Steward Observatory), A. Feild (STScI/AURA)

So far, thousands of exoplanets and exoplanet candidates have been found orbiting other stars. As well, astronomers have seen some exoplanets still in the process of formation, providing clues as to how our own solar system came to be. One of these recent “planet-under-construction” findings however is challenging current theories on planetary formation – it’s a planet which “shouldn’t be there” according to conventional wisdom.

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Martian meteorite contains clay with chemical needed for life

Electron microscope image of some of the clay veins in the Martian meteorite MIL 090030, which contain boron. Credit: University of Hawaii at Manoa NASA Astrobiology Institute (UHNAI)
Electron microscope image of some of the clay veins in the Martian meteorite MIL 090030, which contain boron. Credit: University of Hawaii at Manoa NASA Astrobiology Institute (UHNAI)

The many orbiters, landers and rovers have, and continue to, send back an increasing wealth of information about Mars. Sometimes though, we are lucky enought to have a piece of Mars come to us instead. A bunch of Martian meteorites have been found over the years, in places like Antarctica. They offer a unique, hands-on peek into the geological history of the Red Planet. Now, one of them has yielded more clues to the possibility of life having started there, it was reported on June 11, 2013.

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Scientists confirm Curiosity rover’s discovery of ancient Martian streambed

One of the conglomerate rock outcrops, called Hottah, which contains embedded streambed gravel. Other gravel lies loose on the ground nearby. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS
One of the conglomerate rock outcrops, called Hottah, which contains embedded streambed gravel. Other gravel lies loose on the ground nearby.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

As announced a while ago, one of the most exciting discoveries by the Curiosity rover on Mars so far has been an apparent ancient streambed which once flowed right through the landing site. Now, additional examination of the evidence confirms that it is what it seemed to be – a very old, now long-dry, riverbed.

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